Today, Barack Hussein Obama II became our 44th President of the United States. Seated in the conference room of our office, surrounded by my (mostly) white co-workers, I watched an event I never thought I would live long enough to see (and I'm under 30).
I watched a brilliantly educated, fiercely intellectual, inspiring man of the people become the leader of the free world. He reaffirmed the ideal that intelligence is not embarrassing, competence is not threatening, bipartisanship is more than a word, and ignorance of the world beyond your borders is dangerous.
I watched a father take an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, the same Constitution another man vowed to protect and defend before sending thousands of young men and women into a danger zone.
I watched a husband stand with his wife and two little girls and promise to try to make life better for all of us.
I watched press coverage that kept highlighting the fact that for persons of African descent everywhere in the world, today is a banner day for us all, the culmination of what so many have struggled, fought, prayed, and died for.
I watched the orderly transition of power from one freely elected leader to another, knowing that there are many countries in the world where that has not and maybe never will happen.
Our country has its problems and its graces, its successes and its failures.
Our country struggles with the basic question of rights for all, individual liberties, and governmental influence.
Our country is an evolving experiment.
Our country is not perfect.
But most of all, today, January 20, 2009, the United States of America took another step closer to becoming a more perfect union.
I was certain I would see a Hispanic President first.
I was certain I would see an Asian President first.
I was certain I would see a female President first.
Hell, I was certain I would see a foreigner as President first.
This country has historically had a low opinion of the strengths and abilities of its non-White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant citizens. It took 100 years and a bloody Civil War for blacks to become citizens. It took another 100 years for us to receive basic civil rights.
But we are still fighting.
Women still make 76 cents of every dollar that men make. Add race and the numbers drop further.
Residents of rural areas and the inner cities can't find work.
The elderly can afford to retire and no one can afford to be sick.
The rich have gotten richer while the poor have gotten the shaft.
I can't empathize with someone who has had to drop the price of their house from $15 million to $9.5 million when there are millions of homeowners who have been evicted from their houses or are being foreclosed on.
There is plenty of blame to go around.
There is also plenty of hope to go around.
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
--President Barack H. Obama
Presidential Inaugural Address
January 20, 2009